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Iraq Neglects Displaced Countrymen


In Iraq, these numbers look good. Over the past month, a significant drop in civilian casualties, but Iraqis continue to flee their homes to escape sectarian killings.

The Iraqi Red Crescent says more than two million are internally displaced - that's only the number who have registered.


NPR's Anne Garrels reports on the struggle to get these Iraqis the help they need.

ANNE GARRELS: Dr. Saad Haqi, the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent, says the Iraqi government is paralyzed, leaving his organization to feed and house many of the displaced. Even with the help of international organizations, which remain outside Iraq, he doesn't have the resources.

As for treating psychological problems, Dr. Haqi just shakes his head.

Dr. SAAD HAQI (Director, Iraqi Red Crescent): It's my biggest nightmare. (Unintelligible) the next generation are subjected to some serious psychological stress. I don't know how to tackle that one.

GARRELS: There are few professional psychologists and psychiatrist left in the country.


In this refugee camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, the Red Crescent depends on volunteers to help distribute food and provide what passes for counseling. They're devoted, but have only 11 days of training.

Fagel Shawi(ph), a TV producer who donates his time, is overwhelmed by the needs.

Mr. FAGEL SHAWI (TV Producer): (Through translator) The people here have so many different problems, and they are angry.

(Soundbite of crowd)

GARRELS: The 250 people in this camp of tattered tents are all Shiites - relatives from a farming village in Diyalah northeast of the capital. Sixty-eight-year-old Gadban Fer(ph) sits on a blanket laid out on the hard desert floor - the sum total of his belongings.

Mr. GADBAN FER (Refugee): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Local Sunnis with support from al-Qaida started attacking us, killing one after the other.

Early last May, panic peaked. Everyone fled with only the clothes on their backs. Their houses and lush farms have subsequently been destroyed.

Abdul Hakim(ph) says the days since then have been marked by terror of the past and fear of the future.

Mr. ADBRUL HAKIM (Resident, Baghdad): (Through translator) Actually, every hour is torture, not just every day. Sitting here is torture.

GARRELS: Sitting here in dirt, in the searing heat, with no electricity and nothing to do. There are no jobs. The dry wind coats everything with sand. Keeping the children clean is impossible. They've repeatedly come down with respiratory problems.

(Soundbite of noise)

GARRELS: Tin food rations, rice and oil delivered every two weeks are barely enough. Abdul Hakim says the families have long since run out of cash to buy additional fruit or vegetables.

Mr. HAKIM: (Through translator) It's like taking someone from heaven and dropping them into hell.

GARRELS: His father says he will never trust another Sunni again. But Abdul Hakim makes a distinction between al-Qaida militants and other Sunnis.

Mr. HAKIM: (Through translator) Not everyone was bad. Some did bad things, but others are good. We can live with anyone who is good. We are part of one country.

Ms. JANAN SHAKIR: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Twenty-nine-year-old Janan Shakir(ph) unpacks clothes the Red Crescent has delivered in honor of the upcoming Eid holiday. At last, her 10 children will have something other than the rags they're now wearing.

The older kids are excited they'll have something to wear to school. But what the kids don't know is that they will only be allowed to sit in the back of the classroom, unable to participate until the school receives their records from Diyalah.

Adnan Hasan(ph), a Red Crescent employee, says there's no way these families can get those records, given the violence.

Mr. ADNAN HASAN (Red Crescent Employee): (Through translator) The Red Crescent can't solve all these problems on its own. The government, the Ministry of Education, needs to get involved and solve issues like this.

GARRELS: There's an eerie silence here. The children don't play. There's not a toy in sight. And there are no young men in the camp. They've returned to Diyalah to fight. Fifteen from this community have been killed.

Mr. HAKIM: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Asked if he has a dream, Abdul Hakim says he wants to return to his village, take a second wife, and produce more men to fight al-Qaida.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.